By Gordon Hecht, Serta Simmons Bedding

It’s hard to deny: the U.S. economy has provided amazing job opportunities in the last few years.

The current jobless rate of 3.5 percent means that just about everyone who wants to work has a job.  Add on the new China and USMCA trade agreements and you’ll see about a million more jobs added to the economy in 2020.

It’s great news if you’re selling stuff, but bad news if you need more people to do so. And don’t get sold on the idea that others can pick up the slack — each empty seat on your sales staff will cost you $30,000 to $70,000 a month in revenue this year.

Unlike the late 2000s, you won’t have the pick of the skilled but unemployed. This year almost all of your candidates will have a job. Luckily for you, they will also experience job dissatisfaction and will be looking for a great new opportunity. That means you’ll have to sell your job offer as well as pay for your next employee.

Start by creating two lists: what you want in your next employee and what you have to offer.  Here are some qualities and benefits to consider:

What You Want

  1. Personality: the ability to meet and greet a variety of people. Our candidate should be able to sell himself or herself within 60 seconds.
  • Trainable: the ability to learn new things and be self-motivated to quickly absorb material about product, selling skills, operational skills and policy.
  • Flexible: the ability to work with multiple shoppers. Add in problem resolution skills and working with all those personalities you already have on your team.
  • Promotable: the way you build your business is by building each member on the team.  Look for people who can work independently, have people management skills and show initiative.

What You Offer

  1. A pay raise: few people will change jobs to earn less money or even the same amount. If you pay on an incentive program, you will need to explain how it works and set realistic expectations. Be prepared to offer a 60-120 guarantee wage if you believe you have an opportunity to hire a star.
  • Schedule: 2020 is the decade of the family-friendly schedule. It’ll be really hard to hire people for a 65-hour work week that includes every weekend and evening! Plan to offer options like “Mommy Schedules” (10-3, Monday through Friday); weekends or nights only; or rotating weekends off.
  • Benefits: sure, you may offer healthcare and a 401(k), but so does everyone else. Kick in some cool stuff like free or reduced-priced merchandise from your store; Employee Appreciation Day once a month (part with a twenty and buy some pizza); and/or an earnable allowance for childcare or student loan assistance. The $75 to $100 a month that you kick in for that can put you ahead of all the other retailers that are hiring.
  • Stability: in the last few years we have seen some long-time retailers cease to exist or become irrelevant. Brag about your market leadership, growth plans, cash position and reputation.

Once you are armed knowing what you want and can offer, it’s time for some big game hunting! Check out these fertile fields:

Retailers in Trouble: Pier One, Dress Barn and the remaining Sears and JCPenney stores are closing or reducing staff. This is an opportunity to hire people who are used to working with your customers, know the retail drill and hours, understand the importance of closing a sale, and are used to selling credit. Shop the store, and if you run into a superstar, give them your business card.

Restaurant Chains in Trouble: Steak ’n Shake, Friendly’s, Red Robin and Boston Market are each expected to close over 100 stores this year. Target the store managers! They are experienced in resolving customer issues, providing attentive service and maintaining cleanliness, and they will love your store hours. Make it a point to dine in one of these places, ask to speak to the manager, and let them know you are hiring.

Your Biggest Advocate: It’s your customer base. They know your store, they know your products and, if you’ve treated them well, they know your reputation. They also happen to know someone looking for a job change. Utilize your email or snail-mail list and offer them a finder’s fee — a $500 gift card if you hire the candidate — for sending a great find your way. They can even refer themselves!

Recruiting is not a once in a while thing. If you wait until you need to fill an empty seat, you’ve waited too long. If everyone on your team isn’t a superstar, it means a superstar is working for someone else. Pursue those people aggressively as if your business success depends on it. Chances are good that it does!

Gordon Hecht is Senior Regional Manager/Strategic Retail Group at Serta Simmons Bedding. You can write him at ghecht@sertasimmons.com.